Netanyahu says progress made on hostages in Gaza as Hamas says truce deal close

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday progress was being made on the release of hostages being held in Gaza, after the leader of Hamas said a truce deal was near at hand.

“We are making progress. I don’t think it’s worth saying too much, not at even this moment, but I hope there will be good news soon,” he told reservists according to a statement from his office.

Mr Netanyahu did not provide further details. His office said that “in light of developments in the matter of the release of our hostages,” he would convene his war cabinet at 6 pm local time (4pm GMT), his broader security cabinet at 7 pm (5pm GMT) and the full cabinet at 8 pm (6pm GMT).

For any deal to go ahead, it would need to be approved by the three groups the Israeli leader has set up meetings with .

It comes after the leader of Hamas said earlier a truce deal with Israel was close that could see an exchange of detainees, in a potential breakthrough towards ending the devastating six-week war in Gaza.

Ismail Haniyeh said that his officials in Hamas were "close to reaching a truce agreement" with Israel and the group had delivered its response to Qatari mediators.

Israel has previously insisted on the liberation of some 240 hostages taken by Hamas last month but also the eradication of the Palestinian militant group before it calls off its punishing offensive in Gaza.

Asked at a Thanksgiving ceremony in Washington if a deal was close, President Joe Biden crossed his fingers and said: "I believe so."

The talks are focussed on the duration of a truce, the delivery of aid into Gaza and the exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, Hamas official Issat el Reshiq told Al Jazeera.

Gaza's Hamas-run government says more than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 5,600 children, by unrelenting Israeli bombardment since the group’s fighters launched a terror raid across southern Israel that left 1,200 civilians dead, including many infants and babies, on October 7.

Much of the narrow coastal strip lies in ruins. At least 17 people were killed in an Israeli air strike on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza overnight, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

The director of the Indonesian Hospital in the northeast Gaza town of Beit Lahia said "intermittent shooting" continued there after Israeli troops overran another hospital, Al-Shifa, and claimed evidence of Hamas activity in tunnels underneath it.

The Indonesian Hospital is encircled by Israeli tanks and has been hit by artillery rounds, Wafa reported. World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was "appalled" by one artillery attack that he said had killed 12 people, including patients, citing unspecified reports.

The Israeli Defence Forces said troops had fired back at fighters in the hospital while taking "numerous measures to minimise harm" to non-combatants.

The Indonesian Hospital has largely halted medical operations for lack of power and supplies, but is still sheltering patients, staff and displaced Gazans. From Al-Shifa in Gaza City, 28 premature babies were taken in incubators to continue their life-saving treatment in Egypt.

Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), met Haniyeh in Qatar yesterday to "advance humanitarian issues" related to the conflict, the Geneva-based ICRC said. She also met separately with Qatari officials.

The ICRC said it was not part of negotiations aimed at releasing the hostages, but as a neutral intermediary it was ready "to facilitate any future release that the parties agree to."

Thomas Hand, the Irish father of a nine-year-old girl taken captive by Hamas, pleaded for her release at a news conference on Monday at the Israeli Embassy in London, and said he would believe a deal to release hostages is in place “when I see it”.

Emily Hand was originally feared dead after the Hamas assault on Kibbutz Be’eri in Israel on October 7. However it then emerged that the Irish-Israeli schoolgirl was one of the 30 children taken.

In Tel Aviv, angry relatives of hostages rallied late on Monday to demand more action from the Israeli government after a tense meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's war cabinet.

The outlines of any deal were said to include a five-day truce that would include a ceasefire in ground fighting and limits on Israeli air operations over southern Gaza.

Palestinian militant groups would release 50-100 civilian hostages seized on October 7, possibly including foreign nationals as well as Israelis. The UK Government has remained tight-lipped about whether any Britons might be freed.

In return, 300 Palestinians including women and children would be released from Israeli jails according to the outline deal.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said on Sunday that he hoped for an agreement "in the coming days" while Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said the remaining sticking points were "very minor".

But White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer cautioned: "Sensitive negotiations like this can fall apart at the last minute. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."